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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter IX - The Political Sentiments of the Scotch-Irish Emigrants


THE religious sentiments of the emigrants having been given, as Calvinistic and Presbyterian, for the holding of which they had suffered, and were ready to stiffer again, we will glance at their political principles, which had no small influence in their emigration and location, and after life,—forming one of the three grand motives to cross the waters,—Religion, Politics, and Property.

I. In the truest sense of the word they were loyal. They, and their ancestors, were well convinced of the importance of a regular and firm government; and were true to their promises and their allegiance. James I. chose the Scotch for the colonizing Ireland, for two reasons: first, from their habits they were more likely to overcome the difficulties of a settlement; and second, from their principles of allegiance, most likely to make Ireland what he wished it—pacific and prosperous. In the first he was not disappointed; and his hopes of the second were crossed only as he and his successors failed to extend to the emigrants that protection he had promised, and was well able to give. They always maintained the conceded authority of the king, as supreme ruler according to the Solemn League and Covenant, by which they held themselves bound from the time it was taken in 1644, till they left Ireland about a century afterward; and some of their posterity in America profess to feel its binding power in some respects to this day. They opposed those violent measures, in parliament and out, which led to, or hastened, the king's death. They desired a reform of abuses, and a fulfilment of the Solemn League, on the part of the king, and designed a fulfilment of their own promises, and had not been found deficient in any emergency. They expected the king to lbe honest while they were loyal.

Their views of the parliamentary authority, after the king's death, are well expressed by one of their ministers, on examination before the military authority of the Parliament, at Carrickfergus, in 1650. Being required to take the Oath, or Engagement of submission to Parliament, which was to be in place of the Solemn League of obedience to the king; the parliament having, by enactment, made it high treason to acknowledge a government by King, Lords, and Commons:—"We must be convinced," said this minister in the name of the rest, "that the power which now rules England is the lawful parliamentary authority of that kingdom." Col. Venable replied: "They call themselves so!" The minister replied: "It seems to us a strange assertion that they are a parliament because they say so; or are a power because they place power in themselves. Kings and other magistrates are called by the ordinance of man, because they are put in their office by men. Men are called to the magistracy by the suffrage of the people, whom they govern; and for men to assume unto themselves power, is mere tyranny and unjust usurpation."

They would rather be governed by a lawful king than an usurping or doubtful parliament; by one they chose, even though he might be a tyrant in disposition, than by a company they had not elected, though they might do some things well. They frilly believed that the liberties of the subject might consist with the regal authority; that the privileges they asked were no infringement of the necessary rights of the crown, and that their enjoyment would render the government more stable, entrenching it in the hearts of the people, in whose affections all governments rest at last.

II. They claimed, and persisted in claiming, the privilege of choosing their own ministers, or religious instructors, as an inherent right that could not be given up, and any civil or religious liberty be preserved. Here was the ground of all the difficulty of the Presbyterians in Ireland; they would choose their own ministers,—and with the choice of ministers was of course connected the forms of religious worship, and the articles of their religious creed; a difficulty that was removed only by first emigrating to America, and then toiling through the Revolution. They desired in Ireland what the Scotch are now asking in Scotland, the liberty of choosing their own ministry. The Irish conceded what the Scotch concede now, that the king might prescribe the way the minister should be supported; they were willing to be taxed in large or small parishes, but insisted on the liberty of choosing their own teachers, and deciding on the forms with which they would worship God. They yielded to the civil authority all honor and service and money, and demanded protection for their persons in the enjoyment of their property and religion. Their folly, if folly it might be called, in their circumstances, was, to expect that freedom in religion, under a monarchy, which never had been found; and which never has existed under any government except in these United States. These people had advanced far in the knowledge of human rights; were in the high road to republicanism, without, perhaps, being aware of the lengths they had already advanced; that, judging from their answer to the parliamentary committee—that men are called to the magistracy by the suffrage of the people—they were already republicans. Perhaps they did not fully understand liberty of conscience; or if they did, as there is some reason to believe, they had not room or opportunity for its exercise; hemmed in to choose one form of religion as the paramount one, they of course chose their own for the religion of the whole. How they would have acted had the power of the State been at their command, it is in vain perhaps to conjecture.

They also demanded that their ministers should be ordained by Presbyteries, and not by prelatic bishops; the apparent yielding of some things under the influence of Archbishop Usher, soon being turned to uncompromising sternness, by the exercise of arbitrary power to compel them to conform. The principle of the house of Stuart was, "no Prelate, no King;" that of the Presbyterian Irish was, "the king without Prelates; all sufferings at home rather than Prelates; exile rather than Prelates."

III. Strict discipline in morals, and full instruction of youth and children. These were connected with the Presbyterian body in Scotland; were transplanted to Ireland, there cherished, and were the foundation principles on which their society was built; were taken to America by the emigrants, and have been characteristic of the Scotch-Irish settlements throughout the land. Children were early taught to read, and exercised in reading the Bible every day; and became familiar with the word of God in the family, in the school, and in the house devoted to the worship of the Almighty God. Their moral principles were derived from the words of him who lives and abides for ever; and the commands of God, and the awful retributions of eternity, gave force to these principles, which became a living power, and a controlling influence. The time has but just passed, when the schoolmaster from Ireland taught the children of the Valley of Virginia, and the upper part of the Carolinas, as they taught in the mother country, —when the children and youth at school recited the Assembly's shorter Catechism once a week, and read parts of the Bible every day. The circle of their instruction was circumscribed; but the children were ,taught to speak the truth, and defend it,—to keep a conscience and fear God,—the foundation of good citizens, and truly great men.

Wherever they settled in America, besides the common schools, they turned their attention to high schools or academies, and to colleges, to educate men for all the departments of life, carrying in their emigration, the deep conviction, that without sound and extensive education, there could be no permanence in religious or civil institutions, or any pure and undebased enjoyments of domestic life. The religious creed of the emigrants made part of their politics, so far as to decide that no law of human government ought to be tolerated in opposition to the expressed will of God. It was on this ground, their fathers in Ireland resisted the arbitrary exactions of the Charleses and the Jameses, whom they considered lawful rulers, whom they had recognized in the solemn League, and whom they were bound, and willing to obey in all things that did not involve violation of conscience by sinning against God.

Whether they were aware how far their principles actually led them, before they came to America, is doubtful; they had acknowledged that the authority of human government was from the same divine hand that made the world, fashioning the fabric of human society to require the exercise of good and wholesome laws for the promotion of the greatest good;—and had also claimed the right of choosing those who should frame and execute these laws;—contending that rulers, as well as the meanest subject, were bound by law. These principles, modified by experience, and digested into extended form, are the republican principles of the Scotch-Irish in America. On matters of national policy, and the smaller concerns of political organizations, they have differed in opinion and differ still, and will probably differ for ever, from the nature of the human mind in the independent exercise of thought. But on the great principles of freedom of conscience in matters of religion—on the supremacy of the laws—on the choice of rulers by the expressed will of a free people—and the undisturbed enjoyment of life, limb and property, in submission to constituted government—there never has been, and probably never will be, any division of sentiment or feeling. In the blood shed on the Alamance, and in the declaration of independence in Mecklenburg, a casual observer must see, it was opposition to tyranny, and not the execution of the laws of a just government, that urged the people on. A people educated as they had been for generations, and placed in circumstances calculated to provoke independence of action, could not have acted differently, and retain their identity of character.

The siege of Derry was undertaken and sustained with its innumerable and unmeasured sufferings, in opposition to a king they had repudiated, and a hierarchy they abhorred; and to defend the government from which they hoped for freedom and quietness, and the exercise of their religious principles and forms without tyrannical interference. It is not probable that these men,—and some of the men of Derry emigrated to America, and laid their bones south of the Potomac,—or their immediate descendants, who lived in the days of the American Revolution (and there were many such), would hold back their hearts and hands, and belie the great principles that had done so much for Protestant England, and ultimately so much for America. Tyrannical government of colonies of such people must produce a revolution; and had Governor Martin studied the character and circumstances of the people they marched to subdue, with any feelings of justice and humanity, he would first have redressed their grievances, and then bound to his government a willing, grateful people, and at, least for a time stayed the progress of revolution in North Carolina, and by the wholesome example, delayed, if not prevented it, throughout the United Provinces.

The Presbyterians in Carolina have ever been a law-loving, law-abiding people; differing sometimes about time extent of powers to be granted to magistrates, all unite in reverence for the laws enacted by the regular authorities under the adopted Constitution. They have always felt it was better to endure some evils than encounter the horrors of a revolutionary war; but they have always felt it better to endure all the protracted miseries of a revolutionary struggle than fail to enjoy liberty of person, property, and conscience. Their ideas of religious liberty have given a coloring to their political notions on all subjects; perhaps it is more just to say, have been the foundation of their political creed. The Bible has been their text-book on all subjects of importance; and the principles of the Bible carried out will produce a course of action like the emigration of the Scotch-Irish to America,—and their resistance to tyranny, in the blood shed on the Alamance, and their Declaration of Independence at Charlotte.


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